Look, Up in the Sky! A review of DC Adventures

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I picked up the DC Adventures rpg from Green Ronin the other day because 1)I’m a sucker for supers games, 2) it’s Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition and I have the first two so why the hell not?, and 3) A shiny Alex Ross cover will get me every time.

Having played both 1st and 2nd edition of the game I’m having a hard time getting my brain around this. They’ve shifted much more to an effects-based powers system where you basically have to build the powers you want. For example, if I want Super-Breath there’s no such power, so I should take Affliction (Hindered/Immobile/Paralyzed) or maybe Move Object or maybe Damage (Ranged), or perhaps all 3 with an Alternate Effect rider so that I could use any one of those but not all 3 at the same time.

They give some examples of some common powers and how they’re built with effects but it took a couple of reads for me to really get how they worked. There are archetype templates and 25 or so sample DC characters in here to suss it out from as well. But this game is taking a lot more effort than most for me to fully internalize how things come together. I don’t think I’m particularly dumb so I have to imagine this is tough and would be nigh-impossible for someone new to gaming who picked this up because they love comics. Bad form. A page or so outlining how to build some of these powers or even just a couple of examples in the “Jon is building a character and wants to be able to do X” mode would have been very useful.

The upside is that when everything does click into place it’s extremely versatile. You *can* build just about anything by focusing on the effect you want to achieve, and there doesn’t need to be a 300 page list of every conceivable power under the sun. I mean, who’s ever going to go to the list looking for Super Breath? But I figured what it could be in about 5 minutes. And if I dig around on the Atomic Think Tank boards and elsewhere I bet other folks have done a lot of the heavy lifting to put together powers for me.

The combat/action resolution engine remains the same from 2nd edition M&M. There’s an attack roll vs one of 3 set defenses (Parry, Dodge, Will) depending on the type of attack then the defender gets a roll on their defense against the damage rank of the attack. Failure on the resist is measured out in ranks – every 5 you fail by means the attack imposes a more serious condition. There are no hit points in this system – you just accumulate conditions until you get incapacitated or some such. I really dig that.

This edition of the M&M engine moves even further away from the d20 OGL (although it is still in there, but I’m not entirely sure why). The traditional base numbers of 3-18 for your ability scores are gone and now you just buy your bonus. Which makes all kinds of sense and I wish they’d done that for 4e. The standard array of abilities (Str Con Dex Int Wis Cha) is gone too, replaced by 8 stats that cover a lot more ground.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that part of the reason I love M&M in general and this game specifically is that it remains a love letter to the old Mayfair DC Heroes system. There’s a measurements table where distance/weight/time doubles each rank up. There’s a Motivations list that is almost copied word for word out of the old DCHeroes book. Other little bits here and there nod and smile to my old beloved. And then BAM! there’s an Effects/Damage Resist table at the end of the book that I’m sure is a direct homage to the old RAP tables.

The book itself is beautiful – nice glossy paper, lots of great full color illustrations right from the past couple years of comics (and rather heavy on the JSA, which doesn’t break my heart any).

It doesn’t get any points for organization though. There’s a section on The Basics at the front which I keep having to flip back to as I’m reading the chapter on how combat works, and also to the section on Abilities to see what the defenses and resistances are and how they work. There are some things listed as Extras for powers that feel more like they should be Advantages. Many of the write-ups list things I can’t find (“Protection, Toughness with the Impervious extra is just listed as “Impervious Toughness” which confused the heck out of me at first. At least I think that’s what it means. And some characters have “Arrays” which I’m still looking for a description of). I have a feeling that these troubles are going to hit me in character creation but I *think* in actual play the system should run pretty smoothly. There are still many more different types of Actions (Charging, Aiming, Grabbing) and Maneuvers) (All-out Attack, Power Attack, Slam) than I’m comfortable with – in my experience it tends to create option paralysis in even experienced players so I usually ignore them and just refer to them when a player describes what they want to be doing. A tidge too much crunch for my liking, but honestly I’ve usually found more rules lite supers systems just don’t do the job.

Overall I think it will be a good system and ideas are already churning in my brain for a supers game. It’s a very powerful toolbox and once I have my full brain around it I think it will do everything I need.

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One Response to “Look, Up in the Sky! A review of DC Adventures”

  1. Len Says:

    Okay, now that I’ve had this for a few days, I can agree with you that this would be a nightmare for newbies. It’s an extremely complex character creation system, adjudicating that complexity in-game would be tricky even though the game system is theoretically fairly simple (basically the chargen is a giant mass of modifiers and caveats and corner cases), and the book’s organization doesn’t cut the mustard.

    I don’t dislike it emotionally, the nerd in me looved comparing their stats for various members of the Justice League, but man, I really am daunted by the prospect of trying to make a character.

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